After years and years of rumors, it is official — La Cumbre Brewing is opening its first off-site taproom. Rejoice, West Side residents, for it will be on your side of the Rio Grande.
I sat down with owner Jeff Erway, marketing director Cory Campbell, and taproom manager Jenn B to confirm the pending off-site small brewer license now listed on the New Mexico State Regulation and Licensing Department website. It is indeed true that La Cumbre will open its first taproom in the new development built around the Sprouts Market on the southeast corner of Montano and Coors.
“First off, the landlord and the anchor tenant kind of approached us and actually wanted us there,” Jeff said. “The location obviously really worked for me, from a traffic-flow business standpoint. There’s just a ton of traffic there. We feel like it’s a fairly underserved market. There are some good craft beer spots in the area, but no truly great taprooms in that area.”
Jeff had spoken in the past numerous times about how many factors had to be in place for him to even consider opening a taproom.
“We looked around at a lot of places and there was always one reason or another that the place didn’t work for us,” he said. “This one, there were a couple negatives to it, but they were few and far between. In all the time I’ve been looking, and I’ve been looking for a long time, there has not been a spot that came even kind of close to this, even places that I signed letters of intent on, there hasn’t been another spot … this is perfect. There’s all these apartments right behind it. There’s double that number of apartments going up in the next couple years. You’ve got by far and away the most amount of growth in the population of Albuquerque is over there.”
From an aesthetic standpoint, it will also be hard to beat the surrounding area.
“It’s a beautiful spot right by the Bosque with the river, the bike trails,” Cory said.
The anchor tenant helps, too.
“Obviously, Sprouts, there’s going to be a lot of cross consumers,” Jeff said. “Now we’ve got to work on getting the best partner restaurants we can to go in there.”
Getting the beer across town will not be a problem for La Cumbre, which has been distributing for seven years now. There could be other unique challenges that present themselves in the future, though.
“We’re not worried about that,” Jeff said. “Unique challenges, we’ve never really tried to run a business in a completely different location. We’ve basically had kind of three different businesses in one, but all in the same location — a brewery, a distributorship, and a taproom.”
La Cumbre customers will not have to worry that the new taproom will take anything away from the original. In fact, it will likely only enhance the beer portfolio, which is the reason so many people pack the old joint on Girard every week.
“I feel like one of the things that I’m most excited about is being able to produce a good-sized volume of each one of these specials that we produce all the time and actually be able to move it all much more expediently,” Jeff said. “That means when you brew a 30-barrel batch of that kick-ass IPA, it’s not going to be on tap for a month, it will be on tap for half that amount of time, if that.
“This space is going to be a bit bigger than the current taproom space. I don’t see much reason why it’s not going to be as busy if not busier than this taproom. For me, the ability to hopefully have more beers on tap while also moving through them quicker is going to be, from my standpoint, a beer quality standpoint, I’m extremely excited about that.”
Or, as Cory summed it up, “From a beer geek standpoint, too, it’s lots of cool styles on, fun stuff.”
Being able to keep seasonals and specialties on tap in greater quantity, while making sure to keep them fresh at all times, is the biggest trend in craft beer.
“It’s part of the new world order in our industry right now,” Jeff said. “People want to come into your place and see completely new set of rotators every time they come there. This will help with that.”
The look of the new taproom will be both similar to and different from the current brewery. The original taproom has a rustic feeling, from the reclaimed wood to the light fixtures made out of old license plates and the rows of growlers on the support beams. Some of that was intentional, Jeff said, but some was merely out of necessity.
“My wife was very pregnant-slash-brand-new-mother when we were building this taproom,” he said. “I literally had a budget of maybe $25,000 to get it done, everything. That meant that there were a lot of things that had to be compromised. There just wasn’t money to do it. Slowly over the last seven years, we’ve made improvements here, but there’s no getting around the fact that this place was hob-cobbled together. The thing that gives it its feel in a lot of ways is that it’s unabashedly all about the beer but it’s also very rustic. We’re going to do our best to keep a somewhat similar feel to that in the new taproom space, but we’re also going to make it a lot … I don’t know the word, spiffy?”
“Maybe updated?” Cory added. “Maybe that’s not the right word, either.”
“Polished?” Jenn asked.
“Polished, maybe that’s the right word,” Cory replied. “We’re still going to have lots of warm woods like we have here. We’re going to make it a comfortable place.”
“There’s still going to be a lot of reclaimed wood, basically,” Jeff interjected with a laugh. “By the end of my career I’m going to be the biggest purchaser of reclaimed wood, that’s my goal!”
Jenn said she is confident that even with the need to likely double her front-of-house team in size, that they will be able to get things done with little fuss.
“We’re really unsure of what exactly we’re going to need as far as that’s concerned,” she said. “OK, we start off with this (number). I imagine we’re going to need at least the same amount of staff over there. As far as me going back and forth, initially I anticipate I’ll be over there a lot. We’ll see how it goes.”
As for the ultimate question, when will the taproom open, the La Cumbre team is smart enough to know better than to answer that. The City of Albuquerque has never, and likely will never, move quickly through the inspection and permitting process.
“That’s the million dollar question,” Cory said. “Honestly, we don’t know. At this point, the lease has been signed (but) we don’t have the building yet.”
Jeff said the furniture for the building has already been ordered. All the La Cumbre staff can do is make sure everything is ready to go on their end. Much of what has to happen is out of their hands.
“We’re actively purchasing and getting bids for things,” he said. “We’ve hired an architect. To try to predict when we’re gonna open would be to try predict when another company is going to be able to get another company to deliver their certificate of occupancy to them so that they can deliver our initial to us so that we can get another company to get the permits and then complete their portion of the buildout so that we can go in and put in the finishing touches so we can get our certificate of occupancy. It will be open in 2018! I am very confident it will be open in 2018.”
All of us in the Crew, especially Franz Solo (he lives up the hill), are looking forward to being among the first to visit the La Cumbre taproom when it opens later this year. We are pretty sure a lot of you on the West Side are excited as well. As further updates come in, we will share them with all of you.
A huge thank you to Jeff, Cory, and Jenn for giving us the opportunity to break this news.